For the second time in 2018 the siren was wailing outside the Dawsonville Pool Room in Dawsonville, Georgia Sunday.
Chase Elliott overcame a pit road penalty, and a hard charging Denny Hamlin, in an overtime finish to win the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway. It was his second career Cup win and his second of 2018.
The win was setup by a late race caution for Clint Bowyer who saw his strong day finish in the garage after a hard hit with a blown tire. That lined the field up for a four-lap shoot-out with a mix of pit strategies that out Elliott at the front of the field after staying out, and Hamlin, who took two tires, second.
Aric Almirola, who had led 64 laps to that point and appeared to have the win in hand lined up sixth after pitting and taking four tires. On the restart with 4 laps to go, Almirola tried to go to the outside of Brad Keselowski exiting turn 2. He bounced up into the wall and down into Keselowski. The ensuing melee swept up Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman. Bowman was done and finished 28th, Truex 15th, Almirola 13th.
The crash forced NASCAR to throw a red flag.
On the final green-white-checkered flag restart, Elliott was able to squeeze past Hamlin and onto victory.
“I just feel like I’ve messed it up so many times,” Elliott said. “I was like hey, here’s your opportunity to make it right and to do it right. I don’t know. Today just felt different. Like in those positions, I just felt more confident and just excited about the opportunity instead of unsure of what was going to happen.”
Hamlin held on for second followed by Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch in the top five.
“We ran a 23.70 on that last lap,” Hamlin said. “On older tires, that’s amazing. I ran as hard as I could through 1 and 2. Then through 3 and 4, I couldn’t get beside him there…We chipped away at it all day as we moved up through the field. This is where we deserved. I am proud of this finish and we’ll move on to the next race.”
For much of the 400 laps it appeared to be another Kevin Harvick domination. Harvick looked to be setting up for a sequel of his May race where he led 201 laps and won.
Sunday Harvick led 286 laps and like May won both stages. During a pit stop on lap 322, Harvick’s car came down a bit early, the left rear tire changer wasn’t done and a valve stem on the tire was knocked out. The tire was flat when Harvick came back around to pit again. He dropped to 17th one lap down. He would make up his lap but was only able to salvage a 6th place finish.
Despite a 68-point lead over the rest of the Playoff contenders under Elliott, Harvick seemed none too pleased.
“I would have rather won,” he said.
Elliott’s issue came during pit stops after the first stage. Elliott’s crew was penalized for an uncontrolled tire and restarted 18th.
By lap 357 Elliott was up to fifth and never looked back.
Behind Harvick, Austin Dillon was seventh, Kyle Busch 8th, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez rounding out the top 10.
Playoff contenders Ryan Blaney was 11th, Kyle Larson who was the fastest all weekend was 11th, Almirola 13th. Keselowski held on for 14th despite heavy damage from the final crash as Truex survived for 14th. Bowman was scored 18th, Bowyer 35th both with DNFs.
Jimmie Johnson, who was eliminated from the Playoffs last week at Charlotte and came to Dover as the winningest active driver saw his race come undone before it even started. His Chevy suffered a broken suspension on the pace laps and he was forced to the garage before the green flag. He finished 36th, 17 laps down.
The win was a redemption of sorts for Elliott who was passed by Kyle Busch for the win on the final lap here last season.
“It definitely makes it sweeter, for sure,” Elliott said. “You don’t appreciate it in those moments. But, to come back here and have the day we had, and to move on to the next round; I don’t have to worry about Talladega next week. Man, it’s a great day.”
In the Playoff picture: with his win Elliott is guaranteed a spot in the next round. Harvick is second, Kyle Busch third, Truex fourth and Logano fifth. Kurt Busch is sixth, Keselowski seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth, Almirola ninth with Bowyer, Larson, and Bowman rounding out the top 12.
The Round of 12 continues with the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday with live coverage at 2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.